the circle game

Good morning, my super silly sister,

Today is the first day of 4th grade. I’m so terribly excited for you, but I keep staring at the calendar in disbelief. It seems like it was just June and we were making tentative plans for me to take you to school for your first day. Where did summer go? There’s a song called “The Circle Game” I heard about in high school by a singer named Joni Mitchell. The song repeats these lines:

And the seasons they go ’round and ’round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came,
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

I don’t expect you to understand this now, or even when you’re old enough for me to give you all of these letters I’ve written to you on birthdays and first days. More and more, though, my Goosie, I am caught up in the sensation that we are moving forward too fast to understand. I have loved this summer with you, and we will have more summers together, but my heart and my breath catch knowing that next summer that comes will make you one more year older. I wish, sometimes, that I could freeze you in this moment of life, but I know that it’s impossible, and besides – I would miss out on the great person that you are in the process of being and becoming.

A few days ago, you and I were getting lunch at Urbane Cafe and while we were walking into the store, we were having a conversation about how cool I am. You stopped and put your little hand up and said, “Wait, wait, wait. Back that train up.” I couldn’t help but laugh because you say that funniest things I’ve ever heard come out of a kid’s mouth. Maybe it’s because you’ve spent your life surrounded by adults who speak to you like an adult, maybe it’s because you are an incredibly bright, creative kid – but you make me laugh every single time I see you. I love that about you. As you’ve gotten older and you’ve figured out that you are a witty weirdo, you’ve learned how to use it to your advantage. Thank you for making me laugh, my littlest love.

Oh Charissie girl. This year is going to fly by, I just know it. I don’t want to rush it away, but I know that’s what’s going to happen. I’ve learned from years past that I snap a picture of you on the last day of school, shaking my head in disbelief that the year is done. I hope when you are on the cusp of fifth grade that we can look back and see that fourth grade was the best year of your life. It will be, I hope and pray, the year of your bravery.

Be brave this year, my sis. You have had nearly ten years of being yourself. Mama and Daddy and as a result me have always let you be who you are: a quirky, independent thinker. You are truly a free spirit. You know what you like and what you don’t. You have a sense of identity that most people never fully develop in their entire lives. Live up to that, kiddo. Be brave and be you. The ones who love you best wouldn’t want your bold, sparky self in any other configuration. When peer pressure tries to change and reshape you, withstand it. That’s what bravery is – fighting to be authentic in the face of popularity. You are the most authentic child I know and I love that about you.

Be brave when it comes to others, too. Your little heart is so full of love and compassion – give it freely this year. Be kind to the ones who need it the most. Stand up to the bullies and befriend the underdog. I know it will be hard, but Goosie, you’re already a world-changer. Don’t stop now. Change the world for another boy or girl who doesn’t know how to be brave yet. Give them that gift, because you can teach it to your classmates better than any adult possibly can. Love those who seem unlovable and watch them grow.

Be braver than you think you are, sweet girl. Don’t lose your voice in the crowd. Last night you told me, “We only get morning recess and lunch recess this year. They think we’re more mature.” You are. Yes, you are more mature. But don’t forget you’re just a kid still. Ask us for help. Be brave enough to know that we are your family, and we will help you be a kid. I tell you all the time that you have the rest of your life to be a grown up, and sissy, I mean it. Fight the need to be a teenager. Resist the pull to fall in line. If your friends are racing toward adulthood, it’s okay, and maybe the bravest of all, to keep your feel firmly planted in your childhood. Crushes and dances and parties will come as the years slide past us. Don’t worry about them now.

This year, build a mission. Be in the Gold Rush play. Sing to your heart’s content. Imagine and create and invent worlds and games at school and at home. Enjoy this time.

I love you so much, my sister mister. I am so thankful and thrilled to be a part of your life. I can’t wait to hear what this day has brought you.

Love you always and forever,
Sissy

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how big your brave is

There is a bathroom at the high school I attended that was just down the hall from my government class. My senior year, when I was the most anxious and fearful I can ever imagine, I used to slip out of class with a bathroom pass and quietly go into one of the stalls. It was there that I would find respite from the hurt in my heart by carving straight lines into the meaty part of my upper arms.

No one suspected a thing. I wasn’t popular, but I had a lot of friends in many different social groups. I wasn’t a 4.0 student, but I turned the majority of my homework in on time, I got better-than-average grades, and I was never disrespectful to teachers.

Bravery to me was closing my eyes and feeling pain wash over me. I wore my bravery small and tidy, hatch marks that never faded fully even as the years would go on and I would see that I was not brave – I was afraid.

In college I lived for the cause. It didn’t matter what the cause was – but I had one. I bravely used this voice and these words and this passion to send up the rally cry.

But to tell you the truth, it wasn’t bravery – it was bravado. It was a coverup for the truth, which is that I was hurting inside and falling apart and I didn’t know how, couldn’t find the words, to explain it to those around me.

All of my life, my bravery has been this: a sham, false, anything but.

I can’t get it out of my head. It’s been echoing in my mind all day long, and every time I’ve been alone at work or in the car I’ve cranked it up. Its message is one that hits dangerously deep for me.

The reality is, at 17 I couldn’t define bravery. I couldn’t at 22 or 25 or really even at 28. Maybe I will never be able to grasp fully the concept of what it is to be brave.

After all, I am not flying planes into dangerous locations. I don’t feel called to the mission field to share the gospel with hostile people. I don’t think God is calling me to church plant.

But what I do earnestly feel is that God is calling me to speak.

I want to be brave with my words. God has gifted me as a wordsmith. I don’t say that proudly, because I truly know that I am by no means the most eloquent writer or public speaker, but I know where my strengths lie, and I am incredibly comfortable with words, with telling a story. In the moments where I have spoken with a voice that does not waver and hands that do not tremble, I have been seeking God more dearly than every before.

But I am not brave.

I hold back what I want to say. I feel the words rising out of my mouth, and I choke them back. I’m so afraid of what will happen, so I list my fears instead showing the world how big my brave is.

I’m young – I’ll offend – I won’t be received in love – I’ll alienate – I’ll shove it down their throats – I’ll be a hypocrite – they’ll never listen – they won’t take me seriously – it’s too complicated – they’re a lost cause – someone else will do it – I am afraid.

Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.

I can hear God telling me that. It’s funny how this song, not Christian in its intent, strikes me so deeply as a Christian.

Be brave with the words I want you to share.

If I were brave, I would say: truth is not objective.
If I were brave, I would say: God loves you.
If I were brave, I would say: I’ll love you no matter what, but I love you enough to tell you the truth.
If I were brave, I would say: stop doing that – you know better.
If I were brave, I would say: this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want you to be brave, too, even though it scares you.

If I were brave, I would say: it scares me, too.

My all-time favorite blogger, Angie Smith, wrote a blog post last year that I have bookmarked and reference when I need to remember what bravery feels like. I read her words often and I remember what God has called me to do.

Who am I to believe my words matter?
Do you wonder the same?
But He whispers with love and power-
I shape the letters of your life. Look around at the beautiful and splendid things, and write them.
Your job, love, is not to create the story.
It is to turn each page and listen.
Look.
Believe that it is all worth telling.
I know the truth underneath this, after all.

Do I believe I have something worth telling? How I answer this question makes all the difference to what I am doing in my life. If I answer no, I don’t think I need to tell people, then the outcome is this – what is the point? Why bother to live my life this way if it makes no difference for me, if it means so little that I don’t want to share it with others?

But if I answer yes, it matters, then the fundamental truth is this: your eternity demands I tell you the truth of Jesus Christ and what He has done for you. If I believe it is a story worth telling and a life worth living, then I should shout it to the ends of the earth that His death wasn’t just for me, but for you, too.

I am bursting at the seams. I want to tell you that God loves you tremendously more than I will never have the words to express. Your faults and your failures? The moments of bravado you have claimed to be bravery? The relationship you’re ashamed of, the mistake you have made the cripples you, the burden you carry that seems to suffocate you?

Oh, He knows you and He knows it all and He loves you so deeply and tenderly that none of it matters except for how He will use it for good.

Let that fill you to overflowing with bravery so you will tell others.

I don’t often speak of my scarred arms. The scars have faded and they aren’t that noticeable unless I’m sunburned or exceptionally cold, I know they’ll always be there. I can feel them if I run my fingers lightly over my skin. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed reading or watching tv, my fingers drift over them softly, tracing lines that spell the words of a sad, scary story.

I once had a friend in college stare at my arm while we were in a warm car and say, matter-of-factly, “Those are you scars.” I felt embarrassed by her comment. I’m not proud of them. I couldn’t stand them at the time. In my mid-twenties I was still hoping that they would go away in a few more years. Her words hurt me and made me feel so terribly different.

But these scars, and this scarred life, afford me many opportunities now to be brave. I might trace the lines of a broken life, but it’s no longer in shame or hurt that I feel those grooves – it is with the promise that I see and will continue to see the good in those paths.

Tonight, I show you how big my brave is.

be transformed

This morning I got up for church and instead of going to the service I usually attend, I went to a different service at my church’s other campus. There was a baptism and I was going to be helping with it.

I have a confession to make: I love baptisms. I could stay at church all Sunday watching people get baptized. To see Jesus so real and transforming in their lives brings me to tears, and today, as I collected name cards from the 23 people who got into the water and came up new people, I fought back tears. If I had been sitting in the service as an observer only, I most likely would have wept.

You guys, Jesus transforms.

I never want that truth to grow old for me.

Before the baptisms, our pastor preached the second sermon in a four-part series. The Calvary Chapel movement practices expository teaching, which means our pastors teach through one book of the Bible at a time – start to finish. We did a 77-week series through the book of Luke and just finished up the book of Romans after more than half a year. In a few weeks, we will begin a series that takes us through 1 and 2 Peter, but before we do, our pastor is taking us through a short series called Missio Dei: the mission of God.

Last week we talked about reasons to believe in God. Today’s sermon was about how we know the Bible is true. It was very good and a very good reminder that I serve a God who has left behind ample evidence to know that He is the one true and living God.

I’ve heard most of what the pastor said before, in a similar sermon last year and at School of Ministry, but that’s okay – I don’t think you can ever really hear that stuff enough. It’s important for me to know the evidence that supports what I believe – Christianity is not a blind or uneducated faith. God has given us the proof in a tangible way that the mark He made on this world is true and it continues today.

But sometimes, to be honest, I get afraid. I worry I’ll forget the evidence and I’ll forget the facts. In the heat of the moment, I worry I won’t be able to answer a burning question and that my lack of response will cause someone to walk away without having heard about or personally knowing Jesus.

One of the last points of today’s message put all of that aside… We can have all of the evidence and facts and figures we want, but one of the most fundamental things that proves God is real and is at work is our transformed lives. Jesus changes people. I cannot deny that He absolutely, radically makes people new and different.

We can have all of the facts and the figures in the world, but if we have not been transformed then facts and figures don’t matter.

I think about my own story. I was a hard, angry person not that long ago. I didn’t like Christians. I loved to quote that very popular Ghandi saying: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I liked the concept of God and Jesus in the big picture but I didn’t like how people behaved, so I just didn’t like it at all. I was outspoken in so many different areas of my life, but my big soap box was abortion and a woman’s right to choose and how Christians limited that choice and how they were hypocritical, women-hating jerks. It was my personal platform.

Then I started going to church, mostly because I have this desire to know God again. It didn’t make any sense, given my experiences in life and with the church, but it was a burning ache inside of me that wouldn’t let me go. I still can’t fully understand the feeling I had except to say hands down it was absolutely, 100% God in my life. He met me in my hard place and He reminded me that He could fix what was shattered.

I wanted it, but I desperately did not want it all at the same time.

He transforms. I think about my soapbox and how God took this heart that was, to steal a like from Dr. Seuss, three sizes too small, and He ripped off the hard, heavy layers on its outside to reveal something soft and lovely and loving underneath. He took the one area of my life that I never thought I could change and radically changed it and me.

He works like that. When you give Him what is broken and bitter, He gives it new life.

That is why I love baptisms. Here are these people, young and old, with different life stories. They share how Jesus came into their lives and moved them mightily, how His transforming power because strong and real to them. They go under that water as the old and come back up new. To see the victory that shines on the faces of the men and women, boys and girls who come up is breath-taking.

Oh Lord. Never let my heart become desensitized to seeing that declaration of faith, and never let me be afraid that I won’t know all of the answers.

Because the biggest and paradoxically most simple and most complicated answer that I can muster is that You have changed my life forever.